The interview has been edited as per the requirement.
Beckhoff pioneered PC-based automation in the 1980s. How does it stand today globally and in India in terms of adoption?
Hans Beckhoff founded Beckhoff Industrie Elektronik. The first projects used control systems based on Motorola Microprocessor for machines in the wood and window frame construction industry.
The term personal computer (PC) was associated with IBM PC with variants like X86 processor and DOS Operating system. Beckhoff modified the hardware and the operating system in such a way that motion control could also be implemented with it.
Back then PC based control was only an idea to be explored and has now become a world standard. Almost every machine whether simple or complex is computerized and connected to cloud servers.
Today PC based Control and TwinCAT achieve numerous milestones in automation technology history. Beckhoff’s modular TwinCAT 3 software generation is a classic example of modularity and seamless integration of IT integrated with OT (Operation Technology).
In India too, the technology-conscious machine manufacturers have started implementing PC-based Control and TwinCAT-enabled Machine control systems. There are several examples in India of how advanced machines are built using Beckhoff technology.
What are the advantages for the user industry? How closer is the industry to achieving this?
There are numerous key advantages of the Beckhoff control system to the user industry:
1. Openness with adequate Security: Open automation is the foundation of PC-based Control where the hardware is the universal PC of industrial grade with Windows OS and TwinCAT software platform which is open. PC-based control uses EtherCAT Fieldbus communication which is the backbone of flexibility, openness, and compatibility.
2. Connectivity: TwinCAT supports 22+ communication protocols used in factory automation, building automation, and process automation. Also, the IT protocols like AMQP, MQTT, and OPC UA are also supported by the Beckhoff control system.
3. Versatile programming possibilities in real-time: TwinCAT is comprehensive automation software used in many different application areas. It is integrated into the Microsoft Visual Studio framework for enabling programming in higher-level languages. Programming in IEC61131-3 languages – i.e., conventional PLC programming – is used by the majority of TwinCAT users. If required, higher-level languages C or C++, as well as MATLABR and SimulinkR from MathWorksR, can also be used and integrated seamlessly. This means that programs created in these languages can be executed in TwinCAT real-time environment.
4. Integrated Safety: TwinCAT Safety Logic is available to users for machine safety. This implies safety applications can be developed in the required language- Safety can be executed in TwinCAT real-time.
5. Integrated Measurement Technology: Quality Control, End of Line testing, and inspection require precise measurement. TwinCAT measurement technology enables machine builders or, system integrators to add seamlessly the precise data acquisition and measurement on the same control system platform. This helps to capture and analyze measured values on the same control system platform.
6. Analytics: TwinCAT Analytics enables easy graphical configurations for the dashboard.
7. Integrated Vision: TwinCAT Vision follows the Beckhoff philosophy of open control technology,
a. Hardware-neutral: TwinCAT Vision works both with line-scan and area-scan cameras with GigE Vision interface.
b. Software extensions: Allowing users to access raw camera data and incorporate their own image processing algorithms easily.
8. Industry 4.0: Machines and systems often need to exchange data with other machines or with ERP/MES systems. Various communication systems and protocols are available for this purpose. TwinCAT OPC U/A is certainly the most widely used protocol for machine connectivity in this context. Users confirm that TwinCAT is a future-oriented software platform that fully leverages the convergence of IT and OT which further enables IoT-based automation.
Certainly, these features are gaining importance because connected machines are becoming the standard of the future. We see the customers who were working on just machine control and are now adding these features to get the winning edge in the market over their competitors.
How has the MX-system (Modular automation toolkit) been received by the market? How significant is this in terms of convenience and adaptability?
MX-System is a revolution in the Automation world. This is a pluggable system solution for controlling cabinet-free automation. For the first time in the machine and system engineering, the MX-System enables completely control cabinet-free automation solutions.
By consistently combining, applying, and further developing Beckhoff’s expertise, a holistic, modular pluggable system has been created. The combination of MX-System baseplate and MX-System function modules resulting from the modular construction kit combines all tasks and features of a control cabinet: energy supply, fuse protection, and distribution, generation and monitoring of auxiliary voltages, sequence control with the inputs and outputs, control of motors and actuators as well as the connection level for the field devices.
The full system integration of all machine functionalities is achieved via freely selectable IPC, coupler, I/O, motion, relay, and system modules, which can be configured and combined suitable for the specific application.
The certification of all components to international standards enables the standardization of control systems around the globe. The consistent systemic approach of the holistically coordinated modules reduces the effort required for planning, assembly, machine installation, and maintenance enormously.
Since considerably fewer components are required than in traditional control cabinet construction to implement the same requirements, the entire MX-System is significantly more compact than previous solutions.
The system footprint is reduced, and system availability and flexibility are also increased. In each life cycle phase of a control system, the MX-System offers significant advantages over the classic control cabinet.
The recent launch of ATRO for robotics applications is another Beckhoff initiative toward a smart manufacturing ecosystem. Is this now available for Indian users?
Automation Technology for Robotics is the modular industrial robot system – ATRO.
The new ATRO system from Beckhoff is a modular industrial robot system that can be used to assemble the optimal robot structures for different applications on an individual and flexible basis. Standardized motor modules with integrated drive functionality, together with link modules in various designs and lengths, enable almost limitless combinations of mechanics.
The complete integration of the control into the holistic control platform TwinCAT offers direct access to a wide range of proven automation functions.
This opens up an extensive range of individual possibilities for users to implement their own kinematics such as:
- 1-axis rotary indexing table with integrated power feed.
- 2-axis tracking unit.
- 3-axis delta robot.
- 4-axis SCARA.
- 5-axis palletizing robot.
- 6-axis serial robots, and
- 7- axis system to increase the reach/articulation for hard-to-reach areas.
Currently, we have a few prototypes of these Robots, which will be tried and tested. The proposed availability is planned for 2024.
In my opinion, as a user of the Beckhoff control system, it is evolving into a different compact solution with unique ideas and concepts. No doubt, the answers are solving the more significant problems and making the life of the programmer or the engineer much more straightforward and simpler.
What somebody would have thought about, the solutions are being placed in front of you by the Beckhoff control system.